As protesters around the country take to the streets to protest the excesses of Wall Street banks that benefited from a federal bailout and quickly returned to profitability, new data from the financial industry has shed light on just how profitable those banks have been since the financial crisis brought the American economy to its knees three years ago.
Wall Street banks experienced years of unprecedented growth under President Bush, at least until the crisis of 2008. But in the two-and-a-half years since President Obama took office, the largest Wall Street banks have grown even larger, and profits at banks and trading firms have risen even faster than they did under Bush, the Washington Post’s Zachary Goldfarb reports:
Wall Street firms — independent companies and the securities-trading arms of banks — are doing even better. They earned more in the first 2 1/2 years of the Obama administration than they did during the eight years of the George W. Bush administration, industry data show. [...]
The largest banks, including Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo, earned $34 billion in profit in the first half of the year, nearly matching what they earned in the same period in 2007 and more than in the same period of any other year.
Securities firms — the trading arms of big banks and hundreds of other independent firms — have fared even better. They’ve generated at least $83 billion in profit during the past 2 1/2 years, compared with $77 billion during the entire Bush administration, according to data from the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.
The relatively quick recovery on Wall Street has been bolstered not only by the policies of Washington politicians, but by questionable business practices. Banks have begun profiting off public goods such as unemployment benefits and food stamps, issuing those benefits to unemployed, impoverished Americans on debit cards that carry heavy fees. Cash-strapped state governments, meanwhile, have addressed budget shortfalls by shifting pension plans to Wall Street-run private accounts, further boosting the banks’ bottom lines.
Despite this evidence that banks haven’t suffered under Obama, Republicans and Wall Street traders and lobbyists are attempting to make Wall Street’s windfalls even larger. Industry analysts told the Post that the Dodd-Frank financial reform law will stabilize the future of the financial industry even as it has “crimped bank profits” slightly. But that hasn’t stopped lobbyists from spending millions of dollars to make its rules and regulations more Wall Street friendly, and it hasn’t stopped Republican presidential candidates from lining up to support the law’s wholesale repeal, even if they aren’t always quite sure what the law actually does.